WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden has signaled he may forgive student loan debt and further extend federal moratorium on refundssaid a lawmaker who discussed the issue with him on Wednesday.
The White House was notably more measured about Biden’s position, but such measures would be a boon for many. 43 million Americans carrying student loans worth $1.6 trillion, according to federal figures. It would also be a victory for Democratic and progressive leaders who have long pressed Biden to deliver on his 2020 campaign promise that as president he would “immediately” cancel up to $10,000 in debt per student.
Biden’s remarks came during a high-profile meeting Monday at the White House with seven members of the Hispanic congressional caucus, according to Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-California, who was among them. He said in an interview on Wednesday that he had asked Biden to extend the moratorium on debt payments until this year, instead of letting it expire on August 31.
“He immediately smiled and said, ‘I extended in the past, and you’re going to like what I do next,’ Cardenas said. “So I said, ‘Okay, wonderful. Next question. “”
Cardenas said he then asked to forgive at least $10,000 in debt for each student, which he said the caucus believed Biden could do using executive powers. This would preclude the need for legislation from Congress, where there is Republican opposition.
“He said, ‘Yeah, I’m exploring doing something on that front,'” Cardenas said. “And he also smiled and said, ‘You’re also going to like what I’m doing about this. “”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., sounded a similar note of optimism on Wednesday. “I think the president is going our way. My discussions with him and his team have been very fruitful lately,” Schumer said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that during the meeting, “what he reiterated is that he will make a decision before” the current reimbursement suspension ends on the 31st. august. She said Biden is “looking at other options of executive authority that he needs to provide relief to people who have student loans.
The sweeping cancellation of student loans is anathema to many Republicans and others concerned about its costs to government at a time of huge federal deficits.
“Desperate polls call for desperate action: Democrats considering forgiving trillions in student loans,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, tweeted mockingly on Wednesday. “Other bribe suggestions: Cancel car loans? Cancel credit card debt? Forgive mortgages? And put a wealth tax on the super-rich to pay for it all. What could go wrong? evil?”
Cardenas said Biden did not specify when he would take action or detail what he would do, beyond saying “soon.”
“I got the strong impression, and so did my colleagues, that he enjoyed answering these questions with his body language, with his words, with a smile on his face, and encouraging us that we’re going to like what he’s going for. do.” Cardenas said.
Cardenas said the question of whether debt forgiveness should be limited for high-income students, which could reduce the costs of the proposal, was not raised at the White House meeting. He also said that when Biden asked whether the pardon should apply to borrowers who attended private and public schools, he and other lawmakers said they wanted students at both types of institutions to be eligible.
Some Democrats worry that giving loan relief to students who attend expensive private universities could be an easy campaign target for Republicans in this fall’s election for control of Congress.
Even so, remarks from several Democrats suggest a broad effort to alleviate student debt could help the party with minority voters.
Cardenas said he told Biden that indebted Hispanic students typically face higher long-term debt than white students. “We try to help all former students, but Hispanic households and people trying to get back on their feet, it affects Hispanics on a higher level,” Cardenas said.
Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-California, caucus chair, said in a separate statement Wednesday that Hispanic students “disproportionately bear the burden of student debt in our country.” He said the caucus would continue to work with Biden “to ensure our students have a place at the table when it comes to their financial health and well-being.”
Schumer sounded the same theme, saying black, Hispanic and other minority voters tend to carry more debt deeper in their lives. “It’s not just the right thing to do for our economy. It’s the right thing to do for racial equity,” he said.
The pandemic prompted then-President Donald Trump and Congress to begin providing student loan relief in March 2020.
After initially letting borrowers choose to suspend payments for at least 60 days, the moratorium was made automatic and eventually extended multiple times by Trump and later Biden. Interest rates during the suspension were 0%.
Also at Monday’s meeting at the White House, Rep. Nanette Barragan, D-California, said she told Biden he should leave Trump-era restrictions allowing authorities to quickly deport residents. migrants crossing the Mexican border expire as scheduled on May 23. Other attendees at that meeting said Biden voiced opposition to the restrictions but did not specifically say what he would do.
Many Democrats oppose the restrictions, which leave the government to use fears of the spread of COVID-19 to reject asylum seekers. Republicans and a significant number of Democrats want the procedures to stay in place, and letting them expire is seen as a political vulnerability for Democrats among moderate voters.
AP reporters Kevin Freking and Chris Megerian contributed.